The Beatitudes in action

Sitting in the Martin Luther King Jr Convocation at the college where I work, watching a film clip from the Freedom Riders documentary, experiencing a sound wave of drumming as it moved from the back of the auditorium, and hearing the Rev. C.T. Vivian share powerful insights, I was moved to tears that cascaded out of a tired and broken heart. Through those saltly jewels I was released from my existential ennui and thankfully moved back to a palpable hunger for passionate, committed, visionary, intentional action on behalf of the least among us and our fragile planet.

I believe deeply in the power of words and sure, I need regular fellowship that calls me to different spiritual experiences. But the third leg of my Christian practice must be action.  I am talking about myself here but I am also talking about the church, y’all know that right?  Be it mainliners or emergents, be it the UCC, PC(USA), UMC, ELCA or some awesomely funky, sofa & latte worshipping body, we are called by Jesus to more than a faith that is all about me and my feeeeelings. We are called to do more than gather for one more worship, retreat, conference or theology on tap (though all of those are VERY important, especially the ones with beer). In the end, it really is not about my individual “salvation” as much as it is about what I can do to change the world.  Sure, theology and ecclesiology rock, but action is IT.

I am hungry to know where there is action and where action is needed on the fronts of: striving for equal civil/human rights for all; ensuring better access to education and healthcare regardless of race or class; holding industries accountable for fair, livable wages; ending violence against women; putting a stop to sexual slavery; enacting compassionate immigration reform; reversing the systems that create debilitating poverty; rethinking (and maybe ending) the death penalty; addressing the marginalization of differently abled folks, and ceasing the ecological rape of our planet…just to name a few.

Yes we need to read, talk, preach and listen, we need to gather and prepare, but we can not stop there.  If all Dr. King did was think, preach, speak and fellowship then we would not have been changed as a nation. “We have to create what has to be. It’s in the action we find out who we are. It’s in the action we find out what this nation is.” said the Rev. C.T. Vivian this afternoon.

Where are the freedom riders of today? Who is willing to risk their very lives for human rights, economic justice, and creation care? Who are you, where are you – won’t you please step forward, pull us out of our self-righteous, fear-laced stupor and lead us into a new age of collaborative kingdom building?

Let me share some wise thoughts from the Rev. Anne Howard, Executive Director of The Beatitudes Society.

“I would love to see the church act, but I know that church has always been big on talk and slow on action. When I look to see social change today, the kind of innovative change that cares for the least among us and that does good in the world, I don’t look to the church, I look to social enterprises and social entrepreneurs who are doing creative work in caring for the creation. But I don’t want to give up on the church; I want the church to be open to the kind of entrepreneurial leaders who can help change the church, and grow new churches that are willing to engage in the kind of hands-on challenge to the status quo that we see in Jesus.

I do think we are at a new moment in our country–a new “consciousness” Joe Biden says–that was born out of the deaths of the children at Sandy Hook. This is a time for local action and national legislation, all in the name of safety for our children. Unless we can keep our kids safe, we can’t begin to talk about education or health care or climate change or anything else. This is a time for people of faith, in all kinds of churches, to act on behalf of our children: it’s time for practicing civil conversation—actually having conversations in our church settings about the guns we keep in our homes. It’s time to honor our democracy by using it: to let our legislators know that money can’t care for our children; only their courage can.

I hope that we can be thoughtful, that we can be smart, that we can listen–more than talk—so that we can learn from folks who are doing good in the world. I hope that we can be vulnerable to take some risks and try some new ways to be the church in the world, and for the world. And it likely won’t look like your father’s church.”

Anne, through her leadership at The Beatitudes Society is putting resources and mentorship where her faith is. The Beatitudes Society provides “entrepreneurial faith leaders with the resources and relationships that empower them to create new models for church and the pursuit of social justice.”

Check it out!

The Beatitudes Fellowship provides each Fellow:

  • A $10,000 award
  • A yearlong series of quarterly Fellows’ gatherings in Berkeley, CA
  • Customized resources and advisors: how to choose and work with coaches, mentors and other leaders in a widening network of resources
  • Evaluation and strategic planning: how to figure out what each Fellow needs in their ministry, from the tangible (people, money, time) to the intangible (faith, hope, courage)
  • Teaching, preaching, and story-telling workshops: how to tell the story of your innovative ministry project
  • Community-building workshops: how to engage your congregation in change
  • Sustaining spiritual formation: how to lead from within, incorporating the practices and principles of deep listening, creating hospitable spaces, holding the tensions of paradox, developing a spirit of inquiry
  • Peer community with other entrepreneurial leaders: time to relax and connect

And guess what, they are in the process of receiving nominations fo the next cohort of fellows right now!

“Fellows are nominated by key professional colleagues, and selected nominees then complete an application process that includes an online application and description of their project due, as well as a personal interview. Nominations are open now through March 1, 2013 for 2013 Fellows; Fellows will be announced in May.” Click here to learn more about applying.

 This I believe – faith without works is dead.  We are called to work for good in the world, to partner with God to bend the arc, not to earn grace but in response to grace.

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186 responses to “The Beatitudes in action”

  1. Kimberly . . .

    1) You were right. During our tweets at #EC13, you wrote, “We need to speak up too, and in ways that can be heard. … It is critical to counter the dominate message in all we say and do.” I was responding (and I admit somewhat obnoxiously, though my intent was good) with flowery notions of turn the other cheek, take the blows, let them harm us, and so on. And in it all, I was expressing proper examples, but making the wrong point. Because Jesus did more than just engage in passive resistance in the hours prior to his execution. In his ministry he was also outspoken in speaking truth to power, justice to unrighteousness, and grace to fear. He was in the faces of the religious, cultural and political power-brokers. Not for the sake of being in their faces or for being showy, but because it was the right thing to do. MLK did the same thing. He got in people’s faces. Because it was the right thing to do. So perhaps, in the same fashion, we need to get in people’s faces. In the right way, and for the right reasons.

    2) Here’s why I’m now saying you were right. You see, as a gay man I’ve been content to be passive because . . . well, because I became complacent. No one was bothering ME, no one was discriminating against ME. And so it became easy for me to speak on the sidelines while keeping my mouth shut on the field. But then something happened this weekend.

    A close friend of mine (younger than me) is a pastor at the church I attend. We’ve known each other for years, during which time we’ve met regularly for coffee and friendly chats, as any good friends would do. From the very beginning he has known I am gay, as does his wife, who is also a friend. This has never been a problem. He never treated me differently than any other person. He never brought the “gay” issue up in any form.

    Until two days ago.

    On Sunday I wrote a piece on my blog titled “Gay Love Is Not Sin, It Is Love.” My good friend took great exception to this, and in doing so he threw the Bible’s “clear teachings” on homosexuality at me, and then proceeded to diminish me for having “gone backward” after making “so much progress with Jesus.” And then he said the unthinkable: he essentially hurled the “love the sinner, hate the sin” line at me.

    This is because he, for all his kindness and graciousness and love, accepts certain theological notions as the lens through which such kindness and graciousness and love must be expressed. In other words, conditionally. And his conditions rest upon a belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God in all matters.

    And on Sunday, his theological beliefs won out over his love ethos. And he destroyed our friendship.

    I never saw this coming. Not from him. Ever. It was like the kiss from Judas. And I’m still processing this.

    But it occurred to me that his viewpoint derives from the sources of “church power” that still remain dominant in this country. Only his approach is far more insidious. Because the truth of how he actually sees me, and other gay people, remains hidden behind a false mask of unconditional love. He is among the young, new generation of Christians who grew up with gay friends in school, and so on. Yet while he learned to be “tolerant” as many in today’s 20-something generation tend to be, he nonetheless inwardly discriminates. It is the perpetration of a terrible and ultimately damaging fraud. It is the actualization of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. And today I have the bite marks to show for it.

    3) And so we have to create sanctuary for the oppressed while also getting in the faces of the oppressor. This Sunday I intend to break my comfortable silence. Yes, there are a few at my church who know I am gay. I am not in the closet by any means. But it is a private knowledge among a few close friends, and my church community tends to be somewhat encapsulated; they don’t get out much. I will be letting others at the church know exactly who I am. I will also confront my friend. I will affirm I am a child of God, equally as he is. I will confess that I do not have to respect his belief, because his belief is not respectable. And I will tell him his position is wrong. Absolutely, utterly wrong. Because it creates a “them” out of those who are perceived to be “sinners.” And in doing so, it creates a category of “us” that elevates him, and those who think as he thinks, above such “others.” I will affirm that there is no “them.” There is simply “ALL of us!”

    And I will then inform him that I am leaving the congregation, much as Jesus retreated from the danger of the synagogue filled with people who wanted to kill him. In doing so, I will consider how to create a sanctuary of fellowship for those who have nowhere safe to go. I have no idea how I am going to do that yet. I just know that it needs to be done. Itinerantly. And with a lot of table tossing.

    4) So you were right. And after what happened to me this weekend, I recalled what you wrote. And you were right. We gay people of faith still speak from the comfort of the shadows, and in the safety of distance. We have acceptance and tolerance from churches. We have come a long way with civil rights. But we’ve become complacent, and we can’t close the distance with complacence. It’s time to get in some people’s faces, and openly, vocally and DIRECTLY challenge the source of division and fear. Just like Jesus. Just like MLK.

    That’s how we do it. As for me, I’m on my own Sunday. But I think it will be a good start.

    “The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be… The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

    • Travis that is a fantastic question and one that is really keeping me up at night. I am actually working on what I am calling a praxis matrix to help folks figure out where they want to move and how to begin. Please check back soon to see if this idea comes to life in a meaningful and helpful way.

  2. Do you have any idea how Jewish you sound, talking about doing what needs to be done in this world? 😉

    ps that was a complement! It’s not enough just to pray and believe, you also have to do. Of all the NT I like the parable of the sheep and goats the best, because it is about what I can do no matter how shaky my faith or doubting my belief. Here is my favorite meditation on the relationship between prayer and action:

    Prayer might not bring water to parched fields, nor mend a broken bridge, or rebuild a ruined city. But prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, and rebuild a weakened will. Who rise from prayer a better person their prayer has been answered.

    BTW, if you have time, could you take a look at what I posted on your post about being an ally? I think I gave good advice, but I guess I was also asking for a little pastoral care if you don’t mind.


    • Thank you Hilary for the compliment and the reflection. I will indeed take a look at your other comment.

  3. This holiday consistently recognizes our humanity as we seek to summon a greater spirit of civic and social involvement…it is sometimes a struggle to reach in areas where it appears that the human spirit is riddled with moral decadence and unabated apathy…that being said, there is an inner King in us all…there may be hope for us yet!!